The Carlo Ancelotti Sacking Was Odd, But So Is His Career


The exchange said it all, even though it involved Florentino Perez being unable to say anything of worth.

“What is Carlo Ancelotti lacking?” the Real Madrid president was asked, deep into his press conference to announce the Italian’s dismissal.

“I don’t know,” Perez responded, with barely a hint of self-awareness.

In other words, that’s just how it is. That’s how it has to be. This was the ultimate meeting between the archetypal super-club and the most willingly facilitative super-club manager, so that was how it was always going to end.

Real Madrid President Florentino Perez Holds News Conference : News Photo

On the face of it, the sacking is exceptionally harsh, especially when you consider that Perez himself couldn’t even explain it.

Ancelotti achieved the feat that the Real president had been desperate for above all else in winning that 10th European Cup, so for that alone surely deserved more time than one barren season that still had an awful lot of caveats as to the lack of trophies.

There’s also, however, something of an oddity to all this.

For one, there is actually an argument to justify Ancelotti’s dismissal, and one that Perez could reasonably have made.

The stats and history indicate a wealthy team is unlikely to win the league under the Italian, and that should be of particular concern to a previously pre-eminent club who have basically stopped winning titles in the way they became so used for the majority of their existence. As stated in this very column last week, Real won 24 leagues in the 44 years up to 1990, but have only managed seven in the 25 years since then.

They might have made the Champions League their main priority, but the reality is you have a better chance of winning that if you also have a team or manager good enough to win the league. Five of the last seven European champions have also won their league in the same season.

It is a double that Ancelotti has never managed, and is unlikely to. There is also an oddity to his career.

Although he has rightfully received so much praise for winning three Champions Leagues himself, it is remarkable that he is not more criticised for only winning three leagues, and that despite spending 18 seasons at Europe’s wealthiest clubs.

It is a record that pales next to the near-relentless ratios of the managers that Ancelotti is regularly put alongside, such as Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola.

Real Madrid v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Semi Final : News Photo

Although the Italian is fundamentally a good manager, it is difficult to escape the feeling that he lacks that deeper capacity to drive a team. His main quality seems to be facilitating, both players and those in authority. He may not be good at maintaining a league-winning intensity, but he is good at maintaining a certain level. Ancelotti will always keep you there or thereabouts.

That is perhaps why he has such a good Champions League record. The nature of a cup competition means that, if you are there or thereabouts, it then only takes one or two good performances and the right helping of luck to go and win it.

That doesn’t really work in a league, and it also points to something deeper with Madrid.

Much was made of how Ancelotti had Real’s best ever managerial winning percentage but that’s almost irrelevant. The fact is that, as one of two clubs in Spain who are far wealthier than everyone else, Real are going to rack up records close to the Italian’s 75% much more often.

Their money is almost enough to manage that. Their immense wealth alone will always keep them there or thereabouts, which is why it’s actually important that they can employ a manager that can go beyond that, that can apply those micro-details that really make the difference.

The problem is that they are few and far between, and that isn’t helped by the fact Real will go through most of them without giving them a proper chance. Even the great project builders would likely be gone all too soon.

It is the great contradiction of the club under Perez, that is reflected by their relatively poor return for the €1bn spent in the last decade.

On the one hand, their huge resources will bring them up to a certain level above the majority of teams. On the other hand, the slavishness to those resources and the ludicrous demands they create ensure they don’t actually maximise it.

Perez personifies this. It’s got to the point where the manager doesn’t really matter.

SSC Napoli v AC Cesena - Serie A : News Photo

Rafa Benitez is likely to be next. What are the chances of Perez conducting precisely the same type of press conference within the next two years?

Probably higher than Ancelotti winning a league.

That's just how it is.